From Our Readers

Spreading a Little Anxiety…Info

Remember in school, there were those days when your teacher called you up to the front of the class to give a ten-minute presentation on themes in Shakespeare’s something or other? You had only finished it the night before, and you were positive that there was no way those pointers you’d written down on your index cards would provide your memory with enough fuel to create actual words. For the entire day – nay, the entire week – you couldn’t keep down food because of the stress, and so, at the very moment that you heard your name called, your body shook like a good old-fashioned California tremor.

Throughout those ten minutes you were sure you’d rattled off something about Macbeth (or was it Hamlet?), but your entire brain was buzzing like a news ticker – this just in: Ashlee is a failure, oh my God I have hair all over my face, I am Chewbacca and everyone sees, I can’t feel my hands. Do I still have hands? What do I do with my hands? Everyone is judging me. Luke is in this class and he is looking at my actual face. Why did I wear this shirt?

Now imagine this same sort of feeling when you go to cash-out at your favorite store, or you go out with acquaintances, or you even simply walk out of the door to your house. This is an anxiety disorder. Add in some numbness in your arms and legs, severe shaking, hot flashes, nausea, difficulty breathing and the unshakable feeling that something is wrong, but you don’t quite know what. This is a panic attack or, as I like to call them, heart attacks light.

What I’m pinpointing here, is generalized social anxiety disorder, a pesky demon that wants to control every facet of your social life. It places you under the constant fear of being negatively judged, causing simple pleasures of daily life that many take for granted to become challenging. It’s not that you can’t fight back, it’s that you don’t necessarily know how to or, if you do, how to gather the strength to do so. Like depression (which often stems from an anxiety disorder due to feelings of helplessness and failure), it’s a mental illness that you can’t see. And like depression, it results in a lot of well-meaning but ill-advised comments from others who don’t understand.

Here’s how a typical day might go when you have social anxiety disorder: (assuming it doesn’t involve, you know, sitting in the house all day watching Doctor Who reruns on the interwebia because battling Daleks is far safer than facing real, live people whilst running errands…obviously).

Roommate: Hey, Jackie and I are going to a party tonight. Do you want to come?

Social Anxiety Disorder Recluse: Oh…no thanks. Parties aren’t really my thing. (Oh my God, I wish they were).

Roommate: Bummer. I feel like you never want to do anything with me.

SADR: No, I know. I’m sorry. It’s nothing against you, I just get really nervous when I’m around a lot of people.

Roommate: Aw, why?! What are you nervous about?

SADR: I don’t know. I just feel really awkward and I don’t know what to say to other people. They usually just end up thinking I’m weird. (Usually what happens is I say something dumb and it’s on my mind for weeks or months or even years after and I’d rather just save myself the trouble).

Roommate: What! Oh my God, that is not true! You’re so pretty and funny!

SADR: (What! I have a huge nose. Are you insane? I’m horrid.) I’d really just rather stay home today. Thanks for asking.

Roommate: Aw, are you sure?

SADR: (No.) Yeah, I’m sure.

End scene. Conversations like this usually end up in an endless battle with oneself. “I should’ve gone. I know staying cooped up inside everyday isn’t good for my health. It’s just too scary out there. I’m such an idiot. Why do I do this? Why does anyone even associate with me? Everyone must think I’m a hermit freak. I am a hermit freak.”

The mind of a person with this type of anxiety shows no mercy. Each day is filled with criticism and negative assumptions. And they rule that person’s life. These types of people are often those kids in school or at work who don’t talk much. Others mistakenly assume that they think they’re better than everyone else or that they’re anti-social, but this is far from the truth. If anything they want to be involved in social activities, they want to get to know you, but their fears sometimes override their desires.

So who suffers from this disorder? The helpless? The weary? Could be. Maybe. But you might be surprised at how many people you pass everyday, people who appear to be perfectly normal, who are faced with this obstacle. It’s not always obvious and that’s because people still need to live their daily lives, disorder or not. They have to actively fight it and many do quite successfully. They aren’t confined to any certain lifestyle and many obtain careers that may seem almost impossible for a social anxiety sufferer to even consider. Actress Rose Byrne has talked about her panic attacks and the anxiety she’s faced in large crowds, and Adele is also known for having social anxiety disorder. And that doesn’t even begin to top the list of actors, singers, politicians and many other heavily social careers occupied by the anxiety prone.

It’s all more common than you might think, but nobody seems to talk about it. Maybe those of us with it are just too afraid or too ashamed to talk about it. But if more people open up and share their experiences, we can begin to realize that it’s not so uncommon and that we’re not as alone as we may think. It’s an ongoing battle. It’s not something that can be cured. It doesn’t go away. But the inability to be cured is not the inability to be defeated. Anxiety is something you can walk alongside and, instead of allowing it to call you names, you can remind it how it peed its pants that one time in third grade, so it totally has nothing on you.

Get help. Talk to someone. Remember that you have not failed just because you had an off day. Know that the hardest part is often the first step – the build up. And if you yourself don’t suffer from it, be aware that the shy girl in your class isn’t necessarily stuck up, she’s just facing her own demons. Or that Bob in accounting doesn’t have any problem with you, he’s just worried that he’ll say the wrong thing. Remember that they’re fighting. They’re fighting every day. But you know what? They’ll be okay.

You can read more from Ashlee Anno on her blog.

Featured image by Natalie Dee.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1568077529 Megan Miolla

    I have social anxiety really bad but have gotten better with it. I also have bad car anxiety ever since being in a car accident I get full blown attacks being in a car I have had it most of my life but its gotten worse the older I’m getting. I can’t talk to people on phone or in person because I feel they are judging me I have a hard time looking people in the face.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1300784063 Jo Locking

    Great article & so true.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=603997089 Cilia Marianne Ulfsdottir

    it’s worst on the phone… my husband even books at the hairdresser and dentist for me as I just don’t do it… and most of the time he just tells me the day of the appointment which is great since I would probably just come up with some excuse for not going if I knew for longer…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1174119480 Jessica Richie

    I’ve had it too but I don’t think it was quite that bad. Or I’m learning to cope really well. I’ve learned to change myself when I have to go to work. For jobs I just pretend to be a really outgoing girl and it works most of the time. And then I panic about it on the way home. I have great difficulty making friends though. And I take things way too personally, thinking if one thing happens it obviously because they don’t like me or I’ve done something wrong.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639625323 Emily Danielle

      I face this everyday. I’m really glad to see others had the same issues. I recently moved from my moms house and my small town to a city, and I just can’t seem to get the drive to make new friends… I usually sit there terrified of what people think about me, and I try to e super outgoing and bubbly at work (as a waitress, I trained myself to act like this) but I usually end up second guessing myself all the way home, assuming I made a huge arse out of myself an dreading work the next day. Hm. Maybe I’m not a basket case after all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1020812356 Marisa Apostolopoulou

    If i wasnt living proof that anxiety disorder can be cured i wouldnt post this comment…believe me….I used to suffer from it and actually didnt even know until my symptoms got worse and made everyday life a living hell.
    it was when i decided to visit a psychiatrist. PLS if u do suffer from it do visit a doctor. It is often a pathological condition and like other conditions, like flu or heart disease, cannot be cured without the help of an expert!!!!!! But when u do so, BELIEVE ME, your life changes……I had to stop drinking coffee (as iwas drinking tons of it) and start exercising along with some light treatment. I am now a NEW person. anxiety seems so so far away in the past.

    I liked the article apart from one part : “it cant be cured”. IT SURE CAN. GO AHEAD and visit a specialist! dont lose your time blaming yourself!

  • Tyler Vendetti

    I’m not officially diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder but I always wonder if I had a mild version of it and my ability to relate to this article is pushing me closer to wanting to find out for sure. I have extreme anxiety when it comes to talking to people on the phone. Sometimes, I will wait weeks before calling people because I cannot build up the courage to pick up the phone. Email is fine. I will email anyone you want me to email, as long as it doesn’t involve a follow up phone call. This month even, I have refused to call the eye doctor to schedule an appointment to get contacts because it involves calling the doctor, going in on my own to fill out forms, getting my vision tested (which I always get self-conscious about while taking the eye exam, like the eye doctor is judging me for having poor vision…like, that’s not even a normal thought, no one actually does that). This is also what prevented me from getting glasses for the longest time, so I would always sit at the front of the room rather than have to explain to the class why I couldn’t read the sentences on the board. And now that I think about it… I don’t even like driving on my own because I’m afraid I might get in an accident and it’s easier to walk to wherever I need to go than take that risk.

    Anyways, this article has given me a lot of insight into myself. I’m glad I’m not the only one that struggles with these things.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500986246 Maryann Champer

    I used to have friends like two years ago. And its funny because i call myself a hermit and that’s my reasoning for why i don’t go out with coworkers. I get so nervous at the thought of hanging out with other people. i hate putting myself on a position for people to judge me… so i just don’t do it! i go to work and come home. that’s it! and although im able to work fine, sometimes i have anxiety attacks before going in.
    i always miss appts cause im scared to go. or if im running late the i just won’t go at all. i don’t have a cell phone anymore because i hardly texted anyone back or call so i just go without now.
    the funny thing is… i used to be VERY outgoing. In two years i lost all my friends and just can’t imagine me being the person i was before and idk why. im tired of being a flake, lame, a hermit.. i want to make friends again or get my old ones back. but im too scared.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=502403481 Toni Kwa

    Thank you for this article. Not many people really get what I struggle with on a daily basis and I really appreciate how well you’ve articulated the struggle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=614228657 Diana Cardenas

    I can relate to this on so many levels! I can relate to everything everyone has said, but I’ve been noticing that there are certain times and situations where I can make myself do things I’m normally too scared of doing. It seems like some days are better than others, right now I’m having better days and only hope it can stay this way. I wonder what makes us become this way, because I know I used to be pretty outgoing as a child but somewhere along the line anxiety took over.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=98700008 Celesta Török

    Thank you for this article! There is so little out there about anxiety disorders, especially panic disorders, its something that everyone needs to be more aware of!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=547200353 Gabby Doucette

    Yes! Exactly! Oh man, when I read the SAD conversation, it felt like déja vu. It’s a pain in the butt, but if I’m close with that friend I can tell them what’s up and why I can’t go to some places. I can only go if I’m drugged up on Ativan, lol.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=57800253 Jackie Portillo-Hyten

    Like so many others here: story.of.my.life. I usually tell people that I’m a nervous wreck 95% of my life and they just don’t get it. My wedding day was SO hard for me because I absolutely despise being the center of attention and my nerves were out of control. Making phone calls, going to the mall, driving, interviews, even online classes test me everyday. Some days are better than others. Sometimes I can pull it together pretty well. Other days/times are much worse than others. It’s comforting to know we can all unite (but not really because we’d all be a mess) and know individually we just aren’t alone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=737043575 Kristina Swallow

    I relate to this so well. It’s actually nice to see the same negative thoughts I have written by someone else. I try telling people about why I might be weird if I’m on a night out, but I worry there are still some people who judge me and think I’m a weirdo, because I can’t just walk up and talk to them like a normal person.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=79400926 Lauren Nespoli

    Thanks for writing this; it was interesting to read and it’s always kinda comforting to hear that other people deal with some of the same things you do. Running errands? Piece of cake; I love it. Talking to strangers? Fine. Making phone calls? Mild anxiety, but okay. Work? Not a big deal. Going out with friends? Never happens anymore. Going out on dates? Rarely happens. My anxiety used to be so bad and I couldn’t even sit in classes sometimes, but it’s so much better now. However, it’s social things that seem impossible to me. Strangers are great; I like them, but once I have to share something about myself and someone could judge me? Nope, I’m done! I’m trying to work on that this year, so we’ll see how it goes!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000323428565 Sly Hg Tly TyghTy

    yes i can relate; it’s maddening…the word anxiety gets swept under the bus a lot because any and everyone can feel it and so many people will just plane and simple say they have sooo much of it (people associate it to boredom or anger and nerves if they freely throw out the term anxiety)to say anxiety for incompetent reasons is like saying you are a person with claustrophobia & afraid of heights just because you don’t love elevators. i work really heard to hone or quiet negative thoughts and anything with anger or madness and it is hard. I look around too much and think about too much unnecessarily but a good balancing trick trick is s stretching your leg back and then holding your foot up or back and stare at a spot on the ground. i use my left brain and i don’t have much to think about then. when you mess up you start to find where your insecurity are spooning from and trying more and more to calm them tranquilly by diverting to a calm realm or you find you fall over a lot more then you really have to… sometimes it can be hard not to watch or change channels, especially when you feel like it is playing over and over in your head but other times you can find it could be as easy as a blink to turn something off or keep surfing

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1089024274 Nicole Amey

    I have the constant voice in my head, pointing out what an idiot I am. It no longer stops me from trying new things, or being said idiot, but it is there. Going to bed is when it is worst – all embarrassing moments from childhood through whatever happened today replay themselves in my mind on loop.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=675213518 Frank Fraone

    Anyone who has had heart palipitations can relate. Articles like this are helpful. Hello Giggles is a good site!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1402532122 Ellen Findley

    Thank you so much for this article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1582830029 Amie R. Baumwell

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this. I feel like it’s something that isn’t often talked about, and you really described the feelings associated with an anxiety disorder so perfectly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=55905880 Katie Lynch

    Thank you for this. I’ve suffered from SA my entire life. What I wanted to add was that, even though it might seem like a good idea, a way out even, don’t start taking medicine for your anxiety (SSRI or AD). I did when I was 19. Took it for two years and then decided that the side effects were just too gruesome. I attempted to stop taking them only to realize i was physiologically addicted. I went into withdrawal. I’m now almost 25 and still working on weaning myself off. The withdrawal symptoms are far worse than any panic attack i ever had. What I’d recommend for anyone wanting help is Cognitive behavioral therapy. It has helped me immensely. As has the book “Hope and help for your nerves” by claire weeks. And if you need help in a less personal way, visit paxilprogress.org. These people have helped me through many a rough patch, and they’re armed with lifetimes of information.

    On a happy note, I’m in a good enough place now that, despite a lifetime of social anxiety, I’m just a few months away from being a certified Teacher. Not only can I get up in front of a class and speak, I actually enjoy it! Plus, I like the challenge = )

    Thanks again <3

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=79400926 Lauren Nespoli

      Congrats on almost being a certified teacher!! I’m a teacher with social anxiety too. I don’t like getting up in front of the room though! But, on a positive note, I did survive student teaching in front of the room! And I am a teacher now (of toddlers, so not too much being in front of the room, but still). I’ve been on medication for years, but I’m going to look into that book and check out the website you mentioned. Thanks! :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1444718209 Elisabeth Miller

      I appreciate your position and it’s great that you’re able to be healthy without meds, but for some, they are necessary. And there’s a way to taper off of them that doesn’t cause side effects and you should never go off your meds without a doctor’s supervision.

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